-- Randy Dotinga
WEDNESDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Preliminary research
suggests that a drug typically used to kickstart the immune system
may help cancer patients who receive stem cell transplants and then
develop a potentially deadly side effect.
The drug appears to work by preventing the donor's immune system
cells from overreacting to their new home and causing systemic
Researchers found that daily low-dose injections of
interleukin-2 appeared to help some patients by treating the side
effect, known as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
Stem cell transplants can treat blood cancers such as leukemia.
"More than half of patients who successfully undergo hematopoietic
stem cell transplants [in which the blood-making tissue in the bone
marrow is wiped out with chemotherapy and replaced with
blood-forming stem cells from a donor] develop chronic GVHD," study
author Dr. John Koreth, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston,
said in an institute news release. "The conventional treatment,
glucocorticoids, are limited in their effectiveness and can produce
significant side effects."
GVHD is "a big problem," said Dr. Gary Schiller, director of the
Hematological Malignancies/Stem Cell Transplantation Unit at the
Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of
California, Los Angeles. Schiller was not involved with the
In the study, 12 of 23 patients who took the drug for eight
weeks showed improvement in symptoms related to GVHD, including
skin rash and other skin problems, hepatitis and inflamed lungs.
The condition didn't worsen while the patients took the drug.
The study is the first phase of three stages of research that
drug treatments must undergo before the federal government approves
them to treat specific conditions. That means the findings are
preliminary and may not be replicated in future research.
Schiller said the findings make sense. However, the treatment
"has no impact, to my knowledge, on curing cancer. It only has an
impact on decreasing the complications of the cancer cure."
The study, published in the Dec. 1 issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine, was funded by several research grants and awards.
For more about
stem cells, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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